Seasons in the forest just got puzzlier in the lovely, light roll and write, Rustling Leaves, by KOSMOS
Publisher: KOSMOS GAMES UK
Designer: Paolo Mori
Artist: Elli Jäger
Release date: 2020
Favouritefoe Solo score 9/10
*Roll and Write * Grid Coverage *Line Drawing* Push Your Luck * Set Collection * Multiplayer Solitaire* Simultaneous Play * Small Box * Filler Game * Solo Play * Portable * Fun * Light *
Do you ever come across a game that has flown under the radar and there’s no obvious reason why? Well I can think of one reason why Rustling Leaves may have missed many tables, but only one. Under its original title “Blätterrauschen”, it might just have been too complicated for us non-German speaking gamers to request!
But with the name Rustling Leaves, there’s definitely no excuse not to sing like a bird about this light, crunchy little puzzly roll and write!
Take a Leaf Out!
A number of first impressions struck me when I saw this small box for the first time:-
- How sweet and gentle it looks;.
- Designed by Paolo Mori – aka Mr. Libertalia (yes!!!)!; and
- Player count 1+ – rarely seen but so true of many games in the roll and write/flip and fill genre, whether that be officially or not (one of the rare positives to come out of Lockdown!). It’s nice to see it printed on a box for once!
Then when I popped the lid, my eyes nearly did the same thing; pop! The number of sheets on the player sheet pad runs to 200! Literally, enough leaves to cover an entire tree! But that’s for good reason – there are in fact 4 unique sheet types for Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, each with different rules and scoring criteria.
So technically 4 in 1; 50 sheets for each season! And what’s more, each sheet is compact in design and they’re double sided (400 plays!). No waste!
Having recovered from the heft of the game pad, I pulled out the other components; a very slender rule insert (yay!) and two dice with lovely leafy pips (and an odd cloud or two – more on that later!).
Now, I should mention that when I solo a game, the fewer bits and bobs to organise, shuffle, lay out, count out, and generally arrange the better in my book! After all, when stealing moments to play games alone, I don’t want to be wasting it organising! As such, a game with a pad and 2 dice is pretty much bang on for a sneaky solo session!
So how does it play? As it is basically multiplayer solitaire, exactly the same as the MP mode – it is a simple BYOS solo experience therefore the description below works just as well for one as it does for a whole room of rustlers!
Playing the Field
At the start of the game (whichever season you play), you (or the first player in MP mode) chooses a starting field (one of 6 on each sheet) and the 2 D6 are rolled. Then you draw an enclosure around symbols somewhere on your sheet using the dimensions shown on the die so. e.g. 1 and 3 would be a 1 x 3 enclosure encompassing 3 icons.
First turn has to incorporate the starting field. Thereafter, any new enclosure must be drawn adjacent to the border of an existing one. Play continues like this until you decide you no longer want to carry on (and in MP mode players who stop just wait out the rest of the game until scoring), or you have maxed out on your available ”Pass” spaces. Then it’s time for final scoring.
Scores on the Forest Floors!
Okay, so this is where Rustling Leaves gets surprisingly thinky. A little bit like Trek12 (another awesome roll and write), the special sauce is spread all over the scoring in this game.
And that is because each time you enclose an area on your sheet, you can only cross off one type of symbol. In Spring, you could choose trees, rainbows, bees, birds……..Summer it could be fireflies, cherries, snakes, mosquitos……..whatever takes your fancy. But each icon picks up points differently, and some depend entirely on how many you have (or don’t have!) of others.
Using Spring as an example, trees are a good basic point producer – you get 1 point per tree plus a bonus 5 if you cross off 10+. In contrast, all the rainbows have to be enclosed by end game if you want the mega 30 points they teasingly offer. Likewise, bees look like a good shout. But of course, the bee bonus depends entirely on how many flowers you have managed to collect on the way to end game! And so it goes on.
Clouds are an interesting twist in each season as they dictate whether you can score something at end game or even collect certain icons on a given turn. For example, in spring, seedlings only score if they get enough water to grow, so luck needs to be in your corner if you have hedged your bets and gone potty for plants! In summer, you can only cross off fireflies if you didn’t roll a cloud (because you wouldn’t be able to see them in the sky if you did!).
At this point I just want to mention how everything ties in so well with the seasonal settings – the icons, how they score…..it’s all connected and very cool!
But it’s not all fun and games in the forest. Penalties surface for numerous actions depending on the season. Enclosing a space that crosses the river in Spring will give you a negative mark every time you do it. Likewise passing a go in any season is a heavy -3 score each time. And although not technically a penalty, each sheet contains icons that will only score if you can enclose all of them or none of them….so one wrong box and its “none points” for you! Oh and Autumn? Well, no river crossing allowed at all when the leaves are falling and the current is strong! Your sheet just became a game of halves!
Seeing the Wood for the Trees!
The only issue I have experienced in Rustling Leaves is really my own fault. These sheets are jam packed with icons in lovely colours. And I like to use pencils when playing roll and writes (at least until I laminate sheets to make them dry wipe), so that I can rub out a mistake before it becomes embarrassingly or frustratingly permanent. But with sheets so resplendent in detail, my pencil marks fade into the background making it hard to see the enclosures I have already drawn or what I have scored within them. And although you cross off the icons you score on the sheet along the bottom as you go, it’s nice to have a reference. As such, from personal experience I highly recommend going all in first time and using a marker that will stand out against the artwork. Oh and I’m not quite sure how to score clover in summer when soloing as there is a bonus for the first player to enclose all 4. But a quick email to the publisher will hopefully give a pointer that I will happily share with you!
Understated and Underrated!
Rustling Leaves is one of those wonderful, light, puzzly games where you’re left thinking “if only I had one more roll” or “if only I had gone for x”. Because you can’t score everything, and you won’t score everything in a single game. Turns are trade-offs between what you think you might be able to collect, and things you know are going to give you at least some points.
I’m not clever enough to deep-dive into probabilities when it comes to games (or anything else in fact!), but obviously the number of each individual icon has a bearing on what it scores, with the rarer specimens being juicier in the points department. And with limits on how many of each you can collect, the impact is felt even further. So when this is all wrapped up with random enclosure drawing dice rolls, it becomes push your luck at its loveliest. [BTW: I know I keep using the word “lovely” but that’s how it feels when I play it!]
I love that each season has simple but different scoring criteria to bear in mind. The crunch in the rustle is in how you optimise their respective values. Some feel very point-astic if you can bear to sacrifice almost everything else. The fruits in summer being a good example. As the total score for cherries, apples, and peaches is each type multiplied by the other, that has the potential to add up to a whopper. But, just like the seasons, what you are collecting is very likely to change throughout a single game. The die might be channelling your initial strategy (go for pinecones, hit 5 icicles!) and if they are, crack on! But if those D6ers have it in for you, then you are going to need to do some pretty quick flip reversing on what you’re gunning for in the green grasses and snowy plains. After all, one apple and a solitary peach is not going to do wonders for your final scores!
Having a one off joker at your disposal is also very handy. But, as which die you can manipulate (green or plain) depends on what season you’re playing, it’s not a free ride. And I think that epitomises Rustling Leaves perfectly; a game that looks straightforward and simple, but has a little sting in its tail! And I look forward to soloing the seasons any time of the year!
Please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.